Off-Road Capability

Jeep is one of a few car brands with an identity strongly associated with off-road capability, and even though the new Grand Cherokee significantly improves the SUV's on-road refinement, it doesn't come at the expense of its off-road chops, which are impressive. My time with the Grand Cherokee included off-road driving at Hollister Hills State Vehicular Recreation Area in Northern California, where I had an opportunity to test the Grand Cherokee's off-road hardware.

A Grand Cherokee with Quadra-Lift and Jeep's new Selec-Terrain traction system (explained in more detail later in this review) made easy work of the rocky paths and steep grades at Hollister Hills. The SUV felt secure and sure-footed at all times — even when looking up at the sky on a steep hill climb.

Jeep staff advised drivers that the best way to advance in the Grand Cherokee was by maintaining steady pressure on the gas pedal to get the wheels slipping so the four-wheel-drive system could do its thing, and the method paid off.

With hill descent control, the Grand Cherokee crept slowly down steep grades without drama. One nice touch: The system lets you speed things up if you want by pressing the gas pedal. Most competing hill descent systems restrict you to a single speed.

The Grand Cherokee is available with a choice of three four-wheel-drive systems: Quadra-Trac I, Quadra-Trac II or Quadra-Drive II. Quadra-Trac I is a single-speed system that splits engine torque 50/50 front to rear, while the latter two systems have a two-speed low-range transfer case that can vary how much torque goes to each axle. Quadra-Drive II also adds a rear electronically controlled limited-slip differential that can apportion power between the left and right rear wheels, even on dry roads.

Choosing Quadra-Trac II or Quadra-Drive II also adds Jeep's Selec-Terrain system, which is similar to Land Rover's Terrain Response technology and a dial-operated system in the upcoming 2011 Ford Explorer. With Selec-Terrain, you simply choose the appropriate setting for your conditions — Sand/Mud, Snow, Rock, Auto or Sport — and the Grand Cherokee configures its systems to provide the appropriate response to your conditions.

Selec-Terrain also coordinates the Quadra-Lift air suspension on models that have it. Quadra-Lift provides up to 10.7 inches of ground clearance in its highest mode compared with 8.6 inches of clearance with the regular suspension. The air suspension has five height settings: Normal (8.1 inches of clearance), Off-Road 1 (9.4 inches), Off-Road 2 (10.7 inches), Park (6.6 inches) and Aero (7.5 inches).

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